Student associations petition to remove age cap on bus passes

With the fall semester approaching, issues surrounding Ottawa’s transit policy towards students are heating up. Representatives from Ottawa’s seven student associations hand-delivered letters to city councillors in July, asking them to raise the current age restriction on monthly student passes and also offer a summer U-Pass.

Since 2009, the city has capped the eligibility for a discounted monthly student pass to students aged 19 and under. This leaves most college and university students paying the full adult rate, a nearly 25 per cent fare increase over the student cost. It is a change that has frustrated many students, including Jon Evenchick, a part-time University of Ottawa student and full-time Algonquin College student.

“I have very few rights as a student when it comes to transportation,” he said. “How can OC Transpo classify a student as someone 19 and under?”

Algonquin Students’ Association president Sherline Pieris echoed those sentiments.

“Post-secondary institutions don’t have a magic number that dictates whether a person is justified as a student,” Pieris said. “Why must the city place a restriction on transit that negatively impacts so many students?”

Pieris is spearheading the effort to change the age restriction in order to better serve Algonquin students. She estimates that more than 50 per cent of the Algonquin student population is over the age of 19 and is affected by the age restrictions.

Unlike the U of O, Algonquin College does not participate in the U-Pass program. Pieris said the Algonquin SA’s focus is to lower the age cap, but improvements to the nearby Baseline station may revive a U-Pass debate at the college.

“Once Baseline Station is complete, there’s a possibility a referendum might be held,” she said.

Despite the U of O’s participation in the U-Pass program, Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) president Anne-Marie Roy said the age restrictions still greatly affect part-time students, those who remain in Ottawa over the summer, and those who take summer courses. There is currently no U-Pass program from May to September, even for full-time students at any of the eligible schools.

Roy also expressed disappointment over the lack of response from the city, despite lobbying efforts by various student associations over the last year. She said the letters to city councillors were “a clear message that the students in Ottawa are united on this issue, and that we want the cap removed.”

Despite many meetings at City Hall to discuss transit issues, Pieris said the student associations are still not being heard.

“At our last meeting with [Transit Commission chair] Diane Deans and a few representatives from transit, our proposal was immediately dismissed,” she said.

The SFUO claimed revenue exceeding $62,000 in the last academic year solely by charging students for their U-Pass replacement cards when they were lost or stolen, in addition to the $4-billion annual contribution to the city’s economy from Ottawa’s university population alone.

Diane Deans had no comment on the current age restriction. In past interviews with the Fulcrum, the city’s position has been that the Algonquin student body should hold a referendum to consider instituting a full U-Pass, similar to that instituted at the U of O and Carleton University.